This has been very good preaching, and since it has been directed at the Pharisees and their particular sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, we are tempted to lean back and merely urge Jesus on. “Preach it, brother!” we might say. But Jesus’ words are not only sobering for the Pharisees and any others who may have sinned in a particularly grievous way. They are sobering for us too, since in the last verses of this section Jesus speaks to people exactly like us.
Do you notice the change that comes in Matthew 12.36-37? We have a clue that this is something different and additional because these verses appear in Matthew only. They do not occur in the parallel accounts in Mark and Luke. But there are two other clues as well. The words before this are directed at the Pharisees, that “brood of vipers.” Jesus even speaks to them directly using the word you: “How can you speak good, when you are evil?” But in these last two verses what He says is directed to “all men,” which includes us. When He says, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” it is to us that He is speaking.
These verses are more sobering even than Jesus’ teaching about the unforgivable sin. In the previous section the words He is talking about are evil or particularly malicious words, but here they are merely “careless” or idle words. They are something of which every one of us, not just especially depraved or evil persons, is guilty. But, says Jesus, even these words are sufficient to condemn you at God’s judgment.
Can you understand how serious this is and how desperate it makes your case? A careless word would be the least offensive act you have committed. But if even that single careless word is sufficient to condemn you at God’s judgment, how much more the other very evil evils you have done? How about your envy of other people? Or your greed? Or your depravity (“sinfulness”)? How about strife, deceit, and malice? Or slander? Have you never slandered anyone? How about insolent (rude) words, arrogant words, or boastful words? How about the times you disobeyed or even dishonored your parents? What about your senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless, or otherwise blatantly non-Christian behavior?
These are sins Paul lists at the end of that sobering first chapter of Romans, things that “deserve death.” And we are guilty of all of them, not to mention the fact that we have not loved God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, nor our neighbors as ourselves, which are the first and second great commandments. If we have done those things, in addition to being careless with our words, how can we escape God’s judgment?
We cannot, of course. We need a Savior. We need Jesus who died for words we have carelessly spoken, as well as for the more obvious sins we have committed. We need Him who bore the punishment for all our sins on the cross.
My sin – O, the bliss of this glorious thought –
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.
“The Big Lie” or “the Big Truth”? Yet we also need to stop speaking those careless words. We tend to take words lightly. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” we say. But words do hurt, and the Bible takes words spoken by Christians very seriously. James wrote about the harm evil words can do, saying, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”
What is the remedy? The only remedy is a radical change of heart, for as Jesus says, it is “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” We need a cleansed heart, a new heart. The only way we can receive a changed heart is by a new birth, which is a product of the work of God in salvation.
Consider Peter, a disciple who must have been present with Jesus as He preached to the rulers of the Jews on this occasion. If ever a disciple was guilty of foolish, careless words, it was Peter. At the Transfiguration, the upper room…Jesus had to rebuke Peter as if he were Satan – even though Peter did not know it.
But what a change regeneration makes! And what a change in Peter after Christ’s resurrection and His gracious recommissioning to service. In that day Peter’s words were no longer careless, idiotic, or mistaken. Peter began to speak truthfully and with power, as the Holy Spirit spoke through him. He did it before the very men who had accused the Lord of casting out demons by demonic power, confronting them with “the big truth” even as they had embraced “the big lie.” Peter told them, “Know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.… Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.10-12).
Those words were not from Satan. They were from God and are the exact testimony of all who have found the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Today millions prefer “the big lie,” but we speak God’s truth, knowing that the Spirit of truth will use the truth to bring many to the Savior.